Red Notice – I will admit that there is really nothing super original about this art stealing action flick that is full of cliches and predictable exposition dialogue but that’s not the point. What is the point is the fantastic chemistry between the three stars of this film, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, because they really have it and you could tell they had so much fun making it. The film follows The Great One as the FBI’s top profiler John Hartley who is on the case to capture the world’s most wanted when an Interpol-issued Red Notice, the highest level warrant to hunt, goes out. His global pursuit finds him smack dab in the middle of a daring heist where he’s forced to partner with the world’s greatest art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) in order to catch the world’s most wanted art thief, “The Bishop” (Gal Gadot). This movie is without a lull point and is action-packed from beginning to end with exhilarating sequences and really funny and playful banter between all of the characters. The reviews are terrible for it but the audience score is high so take that as it is. I loved it.
Belfast – Kenneth Branaugh returns to work behind the camera with what looks like one of the most heartwarming masterpieces in years and, judging by my friend’s glowing reaction to it, my anticipation for it is at an all-time high. Filmed beautifully in black and white, the cast really has me too as it has Dame Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan and Ciaran Hinds just to name a few, stars who, in their native British Isles, always deliver in one way or another. The story is semi-autobiographical and chronicles the life of a working-class family and their young son’s childhood during the tumult of the late 1960s in the Northern Ireland capital. Everything about the trailer for this cries winner and future Best Picture winner, something totally off my radar when it came to my most looked forward to films of this year. It will be nice to get another special film this week to continue the streak from October.
Clifford The Big Red Dog – A film that has been, to be totally pun-filled, dogged by the pandemic, this adaptation of a beloved kid’s book has been constantly rescheduled, shelved and moved into what the studio thought would be a more profitable position. The fact that Paramount Pictures thought that this was going to be a runaway hit is a little telling in the smarts department, because I don’t think it will be, but they are protecting themselves a bit as it debuts on Paramount+ as well. The film is exactly as you know it if you got to read these books in school, following a girl and her family that adopt a little red dog who doesn’t stay little for long and grows to an enormous size and hijinx definitely ensue. The expectations are that the kids will love it and the parents will have a break for an hour and a half. I do like that British comedian Jack Whitehall is getting more work after Jungle Cruise, play the dad here, but director Walt Becker has made nothing but crap since his debut with Van Wilder.
Passing – Two powerful actresses come together from the debut of another fantastic actress’s writing and directing debut and it is a more perfect union than you can possibly imagine and it’s all done in black and white. Rebecca Hall takes her turn behind the camera in hopefully the first of many times with Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga giving two of my favourite performances of the year. Adapted from the novel by Nella Larsen, the story follows two mixed-race childhood friends who reunite in middle-class adulthood and become increasingly involved in each other’s lives and insecurities. While Irene identifies as African-American and is married to a Black doctor, Clare “passes” as white and has married a prejudiced, wealthy white man, a secret worn on the outside that is destined to destroy everything. This movie is incredible and beautifully shot but may alienate some viewers who want a more direct approach to the narrative. The film wears everything on its sleeve and relies on giving exposition just through the motions and emotions of the characters. I loved this movie so much.
Home Sweet Home Alone – If any film pissed me off to the point that it ruined my day then it has to be this tinsel-covered turd that had the audacity to piggyback off of one of the greatest holiday comedies of all time and a beloved John Hughes classic. It had everything going for it too with the casting of Jojo Rabbit’s Archie Yates and a solid comedy cast of Ellie Kemper, Rob Delaney, Pete Holmes and more but it takes a huge dump almost immediately. Yates plays Max Mercer, a mischievous and resourceful young boy who has been left behind while his family is in Japan for the holidays. When a married couple attempts to retrieve a priceless heirloom that was accidentally sent to the Mercer family’s home, it is up to Max to protect it from the trespassers, and he will do whatever it takes to keep them out. which I guess includes attempted murder because they basically made Saw for kids here. I hated every moment of this vile little exercise in forgetting what the original film was all about. I really feel like I should have known how bad it would get when I saw it was from the director of Dirty Grandpa.
Respect – Another victim of the theatre shut down during the pandemic was this biopic that I felt everyone knew was coming after the death of legendary singer Aretha Franklin and just as sure was the casting of Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Hudson in that very special role. It should also be known that Franklin herself hand-picked Jennifer Hudson to play her when the movie was in early development. The film looks to be your standard music biopic, following Aretha Franklin from a singer in her father’s church choir as a child, following her as she grows up to become an international musical superstar and an influential figure on all R&B singers to follow. This movie seems like total Oscar bait for Hudson to at least earn another nomination but I’m really curious about the casting around her that includes Forest Whittaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra MacDonald, Marc Maron and more. That is a seriously stacked cast.
Reminiscence – This is another one of those delayed films due to the pandemic but definitely a push back on not getting sued as the film comes from Westworld series creators Lisa Joy and her husband Jonathan Nolan who’s brother Christopher has left the Warner Bros. family over the release of his film Tenet and the streaming schedule. When you look at the trailer for this movie it looks like it commands a big-screen viewing and has a Tenet or Inception look to it as well. The film is a future-set sci-fi that follows a private investigator of a different sort that navigates the darkly alluring world of the past by helping his clients access lost memories. Living on the fringes of the sunken Miami coast, his life is forever changed when he takes on a new client that quickly moves from being a simple lost and found job to a life-altering obsession. The cast is so great in this with Hugh Jackman leading and Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton in supporting roles but the movie comes through like a two-hour boredom fest where I couldn’t get engaged with any of the pretty cliche characters and I didn’t care about the mystery contained within. It feels like anytime there is an offshoot of Christopher Nolan in feature film form it turns out to be a disappointment. I’m looking directly at you, Wally Pfister’s Transcendence.
My Salinger Year – This is definitely one of my favourite films of the Vancouver International Film Festival last year and the crowning achievement for the director and screenwriter Philippe Falardeau whose last outing I saw at a previous festival was My Internship In Canada, an absurd comedy that I’d love to forget. Based on Joanna Smith Rakoff’s novel of the same name, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s Margaret Qualley plays Joanna as a young aspiring writer who lands a day job at J.D. Salinger’s literary agency in n New York City during the late nineties. While her eccentric and old-fashioned boss, played by Sigourney Weaver, tasks her to process Salinger’s voluminous fan mail, she struggles to find her own voice through romance, a crash course in the publishing world and communications with the reclusive writer that she knows as Jerry. This film is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and leaves a resonance that will put a smile on your face.
Four Good Days – This movie surprised the heck out of me, mostly because I was led by very low reviews and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes but it might have worked out in its favour. The work of reliable and legendary actress Glenn Close was never in question because even in a dog crap movie like Hillbilly Elegy she becomes the most interesting thing in it but her co-lead in this film, Mila Kunis, keeps up with her role in a big way. She plays Molly, a heroin-addicted mother who begs her own estranged mother Deb for help fighting a fierce battle against the demons that have derailed her life. Despite all she has learned over a decade of disappointment, grief and rage, Deb throws herself into one last attempt to save her beloved daughter from the deadly and merciless grip of addiction while conflicted by her own mistrust, hurt and guilt. The end result was poignant with a realistic optimism to it that didn’t feel Hollywood glossy. I really liked this one.
Coming Home In The Dark – This New Zealand-made horror-thriller came out of nowhere and completely knocked me through a loop, just proving a constant in cinema and that lesson is if it’s from the down under or the surrounding areas, you need to give it a chance. The film is the feature debut of writer and director James Ashcroft who has a road future ahead of him as he created a story that is harrowing and hits on all cylinders with acting, script, cinematography and production levels. The story follows a family’s idyllic outing at an isolated coastline that descends into terror when high school teacher Alan ‘Hoaggie’ Hoaganraad, his wife Jill, and stepsons Maika and Jordon unexpectedly come across a pair of murderous drifters, the enigmatic psychopath Mandrake and his hulking man-child accomplice Tubs, who thrust them into a nightmare road trip. At first, the family’s terror seems to be born of a random encounter with two sociopaths, but as the night drags on, Hoaggie and Jill realize that this nightmare was set in motion twenty years earlier. The best thing to do is not give any more of this film away and just say that it was one of the most edge-of-your-seat thrillers I have seen this year. People need to seek this one out, it is special.
Witch Hunt – We’ve got a what-if Elseworlds horror-thriller this week and you faithful readers know how much I love those! Not only that but it was a film that I headed into watching that had favourable reviews which is pretty rare in some regards. The film takes place in a modern America where witches are real and witchcraft is illegal, following a sheltered teenager who must face her own demons and prejudices as she helps two young witches avoid law enforcement and cross the southern border to asylum in Mexico. The premise is cool and the execution worked really well for me with Lost actress Elizabeth Mitchell turning in a strong supporting performance. I will say that the overarching horror element of the story involving witches is about as genre-driven as it gets because the film isn’t scary or suspenseful so don’t be seeking it out for a chiller night.
The Emperor’s Sword – Well Go USA hasn’t sent me anything in a little bit so I was pretty happy to see this film arrive in my mailbox as I was looking for a solid actioner. This one goes deeper into the martial arts lore too as it is a period piece as well that harkens back to Jet Li’s Once Upon A Time In China series. The film focuses on the titular weapon, a sword that bestows power upon its wielder which was divided and hidden from those who chose to use it for personal gain. A rebel seizes power and stages a massacre, leaving only one survivor leaving the daughter of a great general to be all that stands between a tyrant and his domination. This isn’t a groundbreaking film by any means but it is one that I thought was very entertaining with great action sequences and sweeping cinematography to it. The movie is the debut of filmmaker Zhang Yingli who approaches this story definitely from the inspiration of filmmakers like Zhang Yimou and John Woo and it definitely shows.
Batman: Year One 4K – A part of my Batman purchase spree from last summer, it really is that I’m given the opportunity to talk about one of the better pieces of the DC Comics animated universe. that is now getting a hi-def treatment in a commemorative edition. Again based on a graphic novel from the legendary ad and revered comic writer Frank Miller, this is the story of Batman’s emergence in Gotham City to rise and become the figure that the criminal element fears, all from the point of view of Commissioner Gorden, voiced in this animated feature by Walter White himself, Bryan Cranston. With beautiful animation, headed up by the director of a lot of these DC animated features, Sam Liu, I really liked this adaptation and thought it did a faithful job of bringing the darkness of Batman’s beginnings and Gotham star Ben McKenzie, who played a young James Gordon in that series, ironically voices the world’s greatest detective and Bruce Wayne in this one, a movie that was birthed from Darren Aronovsky’s failed live-action adaptation. I’m glad we got some semblance of this story.
DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow: Season 6 – Another piece of the still ever-growing Arrowverse within the DC Comics television universe that still continues on even though the flagship show has ended, I regard this series as the goofy and fantastical heart contained within. The series is a great ensemble that features some of my favourite characters both in the comics and the series depiction of them like The Atom, Firestorm, Hawkman and Hawkgirl and even Constantine who was rescued from the cancellation of his own series. Loosely, from the beginning, the show had Doctor Who’s Arthur Darville as time-travelling rogue Rip Hunter who is tasked to recruit a rag-tag team of heroes and villains to help prevent an apocalypse that could impact not only Earth but all of time. Of course, the kicker is that he has grabbed the supes that would cause less than minor time ripples with their absence which adds a fun underdog quality to the show that I still think remains in place. This show is so much fun and a nice breather from the darkness of a couple of the included shows in this universe.
Snowpiercer: Season 2 – Adapted from Academy Award winner Bong Joon-Ho’s mind-boggling sci-fi thriller, his English language debut, I would usually start my write up on this by saying how disappointing it is that Americans have to pounce on popular foreign properties but this one is different and the first season immediately put my foot in my mouth where it belonged. With Bong on board as executive producer along with fellow Korean film master Park Chan Wook and horror director Scott Derrickson, this show has the immediate source material love and care I wanted for it and it shines, especially with Blindspotting’s Daveed Diggs as the lead, one of the best actors working today. For those who don’t know, the show is a post-fall of humanity story about a divided remainder of people, either the poor or the elite, that live on a train that constantly zooms around the frozen landscape of Earth. With Jennifer Connolly playing the opposition in this show, it can only get better. This show definitely already pulled in the views like crazy on Netflix but now you can watch it properly on a high-definition disc with optimum picture and sound.
Steve’s Blu-Ray & DVD Geekouts:
The Ghost Ship/Bedlam – It’s a bit past Halloween, I know, but the time is always good to check out a classic and especially one that stars Bela Lugosi. Well, Warner Archive has hooked us up with this great release that has not just one of these horror stories from the vault but two. The first film isn’t the one that the Dark Castle film of the mid-2000s was based on and follows Tom Merriam, a naval officer who signs on the ship Altair as third officer under Captain Stone. At first, things look good, Stone sees Merriam as a younger version of himself and Merriam sees Stone as the first adult to ever treat him as a friend but after a couple of strange deaths of crew members, Merriam begins to think Stone is a psychopathic madman obsessed with authority. He tries to tell others, but no one believes him, and it only makes Stone angry and more driven. Bedlam follows Nell Bowen, the protégé of Lord Mortimer, who wants to help change the conditions of notorious St. Mary’s of Bethlehem Asylum. Though she tries to reform Bedlam, the cruel Master Sims who runs it, played by Legosi, has her committed there, though ultimately, it’s the lunatics who’ve taken over the asylum. These are some building blocks for mystery thrillers and it’s cool to see them showcased on blu-ray now.
Walker: Season 1 – I find it so weird that Jared Padelecki has moved from something so beloved to a huge fan base like Supernatural to a series that comes from a fan base that is so right-wing and so fixed in its own zeitgeist, the lovers of Chuck Norris. Granted, I used to be a fan of the action hero but that was in the eighties when I was a kid not as a part of this horribly campy procedural. This is more a modern remake than a reboot that would see Norris return and follow the former Winchester brother as a widowed father who returns to Austin after one year, attempting to reconnect with his children, navigate clashes with his family, and find common ground with his new partner, while growing increasingly suspicious of his wife’s death. The show comes from creator Anna Fricke who isn’t new to rebooting or resetting shows as she already did with the Syfy remake of the BBC series Being Human which I enjoyed quite a bit. So far, so good on this one and Jared handles the lead role quite well.
Gentefied: Season 2 (Netflix) – A half-hour comedy-drama that I thought would do way better than it did, this series comes from showrunner Marvin Lemus and is based on his internet series of the same name about three cousins who band together to keep their Grandfather’s popular Boyle Heights taco shop in business as the neighbourhood becomes more gentrified. The cast is all unknown to me other than the grandfather who is played by Joaquín Cosio from the Del Toro FX series The Strain and Wilmer Valderrama who plays the building owner and it is well written and original and it looks like Lemus capitalized on the much higher budget from Netflix because this show looks great but I’m surprised about the second season renewal because I thought it flopped. Now that it’s here, I’m very interested to see how it progresses.
The Shrink Next Door (AppleTV+) – The People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive for this year, Paul Rudd, and one of the funniest men on the planet, Will Ferrell, had reunited after their Anchorman movies for a new AppleTV+ comedy-drama series that is based on a podcast. Being a long-time podcaster myself, I love to see that the medium is getting more legs in other media so this concept was pretty exciting to me. The show is the story of Marty and the therapist who turned his life around then subsequently took it over. When he meets Dr. Ike, Marty just wants to get better at boundaries but over 30 years, he’ll learn all about them and what happens when they get crossed. Is this button pushing to make Marty a better person or just a sick social experiment from a mad man? I love that these are the actors that are paired together for these very different roles and I can’t wait to see them traverse the decades as the show progresses. This might be the low-key hit of the week.
Dopesick (Disney+) – From executive producer and director Barry Levinson and writer and creator Danny Strong, this new limited series takes a deep look at the opioid crisis and how we got there through the epidemic that was caused by the miracle drug, Oxycontin. The series takes viewers to the epicentre of America’s struggle with opioid addiction, from the boardrooms of Purdue Pharma where salesmen are encouraged to use dubious methods to convince doctors to push a drug mislabeled as non-addictive, to a distressed Virginia mining community experiencing tragedy after tragedy, to the hallways of the DEA where the FDA’s blind push through of the drug finally hits a breaking point. The series has an incredible cast with Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson, Peter Sarsgaard, Kaitlin Dever and more but each episode hits you like a ton of bricks and may cause a need for a breather after each one.
Dexter: New Blood (Crave) – The Sopranos used their chance to satisfy their fans who were let down by the infamous fade to black that angered many but I really loved with a prequel movie that kind of disappointed more people. Dexter gets to do the same thing now by kind of retconning the last terrible season of the acclaimed series or, who knows, maybe they keep it in place as a “screw you, we did it” sort of thing. The series is set ten years after Dexter Morgan went missing in the eye of Hurricane Laura at the end of the final season and he is now living under an assumed name in Upstate New York, Iron Lake, far from his original home in Miami. We definitely should assume his “dark passenger” is still along for the ride but what is his son Harrison like now and does he have his own darkness to satiate? Also, Jennifer Carpenter, who played his sister Deb, is in this revival as well and, given her fate in the series, what role does she play now? There are so many questions swirling around this new revisit to an old friend and I’m definitely excited to check it out.
Snoopy In Space: Season 2 (AppleTV+) – The bringing back of Snoopy has done some good for AppleTV+ who really needed something to give the parents and kids as a selling tool and it has to be both the pushing of beloved characters and putting it in the hands of people who exhibit a reverence for the Peanuts history. Having gone through all of the episodes with my daughter, there isn’t a single moment that feels false. The story follows Snoopy as his vision of becoming an astronaut turns into reality and he and Woodstock tag along with the Peanuts gang on a trip to NASA. Of course, they are chosen for an important mission to space and the chance to become heroes… in their own head. What can I say except if you have anything against Snoopy and the gang you are pretty much a monster and should be locked up.